Summertime fun frequently involves a trip to the seaside. While days are spent with toes in the sand, once the sun sets the entertainment moves away from the sand to the boardwalk attractions, food and fanfare.
Today, Atlantic City, New Jersey, is known for its casinos. But the city has a storied history as a seaside retreat. The Atlantic City Boardwalk opened on June 26, 1870, becoming the first boardwalk in the United States. National Geographic explains the first wooden planks were laid to curb the amount of sand beachcombers tracked into the train and hotel lobbies. Eventually, the boardwalk itself, with arcade halls and amusement attractions, would become its own destination.
Soon other boardwalks opened across the country, including in Coney Island, New York; Myrtle Beach, South Carolina and Santa Cruz, California. Boardwalks became hubs of summertime fun, with food and confections.
A well-known boardwalk treat, salt water taffy is a summertime staple. Salt water taffy is a soft taffy that was originally produced and marketed in Atlantic City. According to popular lore, David Bradley, whose candy store was flooded during a major storm in 1883, found all of his stock soaked with the salty Atlantic brine – including his taffy. When a young customer later came in asking if he had taffy, he jokingly offered her ‘salt water taffy.’ The customer sampled the piece and showed her friends. The name ‘salt water taffy’ caught on.
A man named Joseph Franlinger helped make salt water taffy a household name. After observing boardwalk visitors purchasing the candy during seaside jaunts, he found a way to box the candy and sell it so it wouldn’t be reserved only for summer holidays. According to candy manufacturer Wokenfuss, by the 1920s, salt water taffy was at the height of its popularity, with more than 450 manufacturers making and/or selling the candy at the time. Each had his own method of preserving the candy, making it less sticky and more portable.
Taffy was first prepared in copper kettles heated over open coals. The sugary mixture was cooled on marble slabs and then pulled from a large hook. The pulling incorporated air into the mix to help keep the taffy soft. The taffy was hand-rolled to the desired thickness, cut and then wrapped.
Salt water taffy is primarily a treat enjoyed on the oceanside boardwalks, but it is sold throughout the United States and Canada. No trip to the boardwalk, though, is complete without snagging a piece of sweet salt water taffy.